Communication with parents can feel like walking on eggshells. At best we teachers feel like we’re being watched carefully by parents or at the worst we may even feel as though we’re on trial when our students have troubles. However, engaging parents in meaningful communication and getting them involved at school starts with us. Although we’d like to think it’s their responsibility – and in part it is – we need to make sure the door is wide open for them to be able to comfortably walk in. Realistically, they’re probably intimidated by us too! So, what are some tips to engage parents and keep things positive?
Three Needs Parents Have
During my first year of teaching, my educational coordinator told me that parents need to know three things about their child’s teacher: that you love their child, you see their child as an individual and that you know what you’re doing. By keeping these three needs in mind when communicating with parents, things are more likely to go smoothly and have a positive outcome for you, the parents and the child. This rule worked well for me as a teacher – and as a mother I can attest that this is a fairly accurate boiled down version of what we parents need from our children’s teachers.
Tell a Funny Story
Occasionally telling parents an anecdote about something funny that happened at school with their child will take care of needs one, two and possibly three – mentioned above. You’ll show you’re paying attention and that you appreciate the uniqueness of their child. Even the simplest updates are great, for example “Joshua really seemed interested in learning about Ancient Egypt and started a research report on it.” Of course, there are some stories that are too good to pass up. For example, when I was pregnant and teaching, a kindergartener wanted to talk to my baby. So I said, “Go ahead, he’ll hear you” and he said “No, open your mouth.” I opened my mouth and he cupped his hands and yelled down my throat so the baby could hear. Needless to say, his mom thought this was hilarious. These occasional updates are important for maintaining positive lines of communication open. If you don’t see your student’s parents often, give them a call or shoot them an email. You can keep a list on rotation of who to send updates to each week. One of the best ways to avoid confrontation is to have great rapport already established.
Host a Visitor’s Day
There’s nothing more effective at luring parents into school to get them involved than their own children. By hosting a visitor’s day, you’ll pretty much guarantee that they’ll show up because their children will be very disappointed if they don’t. Have students show their parents something they’re working on, read them a book they wrote, sing songs they’ve learned, etc. – it can be anything. Students always love showing mom and dad around their classroom and will relish the chance to show off something they’ve learned. This is an excellent opportunity to engage parents in conversations and show them all the wonderful things happening at school. It’s also one of the best antidotes to the “What’d you do at school today?” answered by “ I dunno” or “nothing” problem.
Although it may seem intimidating at times, engaging parents is really quite simple. By reaching out to them, you’ll show your confidence and competence. When engaging parents, the first step is up to you. Even the simplest of strategies will mean a lot to parents and leave the door open for positive communication.